A few weeks ago, I attended the San Diego Writers Conference, put on by San Diego State University. It was my first time at this event so I wondered how it would work out.. My big questions (and the answers, now that it’s over):
- Would it be worth the money (yes)
- Would it be well-run (yes again)
- Would the speakers be knowledgeable and on topic (another big yes)
- Would the agent/editor I spent extra money to chat with be helpful (a huge yes)
- Would the people I met be as passionate about writing as I am (yep yep yep)
- Would the Saturday night banquet be something other than chicken (OK–no Saturday night banquet–another plus for this event. Instead, they had a networking lunch where you sat at a table with other writers of your genre. Loved that approach).
My top four surprises–things I didn’t expect to hear about writers and writing and made a huge impression on me:
- Many author-presenters were published both traditionally and self-pubbed. This used to be rare–now, it seems the norm. They had lots of reasons, not just one standard.
- Authors must have digital platforms. That’s right–no longer recommended. Now, you need a blog at least, more is better. As Chip MacGregor of MacGregor Literary said: “Publishers want a great idea from an author with a great platform who has a great voice.“
- Italics for thoughts is outdated (who knew?).
- 70% of the attendees at the conference were over 50ish.
And finally, aside from these four surprises, here are my top 16 take-ways:
- Almost no one used digital devices. I was on my own with my iPad and digital note-taking. Everyone else used a trusty pen and paper.
- If you self-pub, an Amazon ranking of 250,000th in sales or above is considered good.
- One of the fixes mentioned for a story was to give the protagonist a dog. It seems everyone loves dogs.
- Another fix for a novel is to fit it neatly into a genre. Sure, you can break all the rules and call it your artistic calling or your voice, but it hurts the likelihood of you getting picked up.
- #1 complaint of publishers/agents about a story: Pacing was off, too much backstory, stakes weren’t high enough (OK, that’s three)
- Doubt kills more books than failure ever will.
- Publishers expect authors to hit the ground running with clean, polished work. They no longer want to apprentice you.
- Make sure your spelling and grammar are accurate–typos bring a query to a dead halt.
- Never say: I want to be a writer.
- Stay away from people who don’t get it.
- Have a day job so you don’t worry about paying the bills. It also teaches you about life.
- Don’t tell readers everything. Let them participate in the story. Hemingway said: “The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth being above the water.”
- “If you aren’t over your head, how do you know how tall you are?” –TS Elliot.
- There are only two plots:
- Hero takes a journey
- Stranger comes to town.
- An ordeal served up without perspective is merely an ordeal.
- Read–and memorize–“Elements of Style”.
Overall, this conference gets an A. I can’t think of anything I didn’t like and will probably attend next year. Who’s with me?
More on writing advice:
Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her book at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.